We see many rites of passage as our children grow: first playdate, first day of school, first slumber party away from home. I think you get the picture. In our family, our most recent transition has been first Facebook account and much discussion and planning occurred before our 13-year-old finally gained access to the wonderful world of Facebook, including a written contract.
You can read our Facebook contract for parents of teenagers here.
Search Institute has identified Family Boundaries as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.
As our children get older, we believe we will use written contracts quite often – our kids want something, and parents want a certain behavior. It’s a perfect combination, and facilitates communication.
While preteens and teenagers may nod their heads respectfully when we communicate expectations verbally, a written contract eliminates any misunderstandings. Confusing language can be addressed and changed prior to signing the contract, so both parties start from the same point.
TIPS FOR WRITING CONTRACTS
Use positive language – focusing on what to do, rather than what not to do is a more effective way of communicating in general. Our minds naturally focus on the action word, so we often ignore the “no” or “not” that’s in front of it.
Decide what you really want – trying to meet too many goals in a contract will doom it to fail. For our contract, the overall goal was “safety”, so we tried to focus most of our language toward that end.
Collaborate with your child – asking your child to help write the contract will make it more feasible for him or her to be successful, while still maintaining the integrity of it.
Establish consequences – make it clear that if your child doesn’t uphold the contract, the consequences will be enforced. Typically the consequence is simply removing the privilege the contract allows.
Provide feedback while the contract is in force – ongoing conversation about responsibility related to the privilege is key in helping kids to maintain excellent behavior. Mention it, when you notice they’re making good choices, and gently refer to the contract if you see something that makes you think they might be struggling with it.
My daughter has been using her new Facebook account for more than two months now, enjoys it a lot and stays within the boundaries we set together. Her ability to show us responsibility in the realm of Facebook gives us confidence that she’ll also be successful with the next contract we create with her – for whatever reason we need one.
How will you use written contracts with your kids? What works for you?
Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.
Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.